Naomi Campbell gets Sarah Brown's vote in Harper's list of heroines

Gordon Brown's wife has nominated supermodel Naomi Campbell for a list of 21st-century heroines in Harper's Bazaar

Gordon Brown is not known for his celebrity nous: just last week he confused actresses Reese Witherspoon and Renee Zellweger. His wife, however, has an altogether firmer grasp of popular culture.

Asked to nominate her "21st-century heroine" for the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar, Sarah Brown chose the supermodel Naomi Campbell, in recognition of her work for women's and children's charities.

Campbell could be seen as a controversial choice. She has a reputation for tantrums and has been accused of violent or abusive behaviour several times in the past decade by employees and associates. In 2007 she was given a community service sentence by a New York court and ordered to attend anger management classes after hitting a maid on the head with a mobile phone.

Brown admits she felt a tinge of apprehension when the Streatham-born model visited Downing Street early last year with an offer to help the childbirth mortality charity of which the prime minister's wife is patron.

"The Naomi Campbell I had heard about was beautiful, successful, always late, a bit frightening, even a bit out of control," she writes in the magazine. "[The] Naomi Campbell I met [was] certainly beautiful, but also sincere, direct, and impatient in a good way."

The pair clearly hit it off. Campbell used her 2008 Fashion for Relief event to support Brown's White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA), which seeks to curb the huge number of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth in the developing world.

Six months ago Brown named the supermodel as a world ambassador for WRA at a star-studded event in Los Angeles. In June the pair spent a day at the Glastonbury music festival to promote the charity. And last month they worked together again – this time with designer Marc Jacobs, creative director of Louis Vuitton – in a project to raise funds for WRA. The fashion label will donate a portion of sales from a bag in its spring/summer 2010 collection, designed by Jacobs, to the charity.

"The Naomi Campbell I know has proven herself a loyal friend and a woman of her word," Brown writes. "She is a fearless challenger of the established position if she sees the need for change, whether in her call for greater diversity in the media, or the demand for greater focus in international development on women's health and rights. She is generous, authentic and hardworking."

Brown was one of 20 people asked to name their heroine by Harper's Bazaar. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, chose Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer selected Stella McCartney for her refusal to use fur or leather in the clothes she designs. Bill Clinton nominated Zainab Salbi, the Iraqi-born founder of Women for Women International, an organisation which helps female victims of war.

The magazine's editor, Lucy Yeomans, used her vote to praise a woman she calls "sexy, smart as a whip, and catnip for men and women alike" – Michelle Obama. "No one," she says, "better invigorates the argument for change."


Ned Temko

The GuardianTramp

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